Living in extreme poverty is an unfair burden that stunts the potential of close to 800 million people. It could mean the difference between children going to school or earning money to feed their families. We have made huge strides in the fight against extreme poverty, the global poverty has been cut in half since 2000 – from 1.7 billion people in 1999 to 783 million in 2013 living on less than $1.90 a day. If this impressive progress continues, ending extreme poverty by 2030 can happen. Unfortunately, progress has been uneven and people living in the deepest pockets of poverty are at risk of being left behind. The extreme poor living in the poorest countries and fragile states– the majority of which are in sub-Saharan Africa- are particularly vulnerable. Certain groups, such as girls and women and those living in rural settings, also face difficult hurdles. If we are going to end poverty, we need a targeted effort to reach the most vulnerable and marginalized groups.
Poverty rates have dropped declined at a slower pace in sub-Saharan Africa than in other regions. Even though the extreme poverty rate fell from 55% in 1990 to 42% in 2013, the overall number of extreme poor increased from 282 million to 401 million due to population growth. And, as the number of people living in poverty goes up, the poorest countries are receiving a smaller share of aid. In 2017, only 28% of foreign aid (ODA) was directed at the poorest countries. If we are to see the end of extreme poverty, we need to make sure aid is going to those who need it most. 11 billion people do not have access to electricity and poor governance means that over a trillion dollars is siphoned out of developing countries each year. As bad as these numbers are, large gaps in data mean that we may not know the full extent of extreme poverty.
If we want to end extreme poverty by 2030, we need donor governments to step up and increase their aid contributions, and more of their contributions should go to the poorest countries. If all donors met the 0.7% of gross national income (GNI) commitment in 2017, an additional $181 billion would have been available for developing countries. Well targeted interventions could also have an enormous impact, for example, ensuring all students in low-income countries have basic reading skills could cut extreme poverty by 12%. Global hunger numbers could be reduced by 100-150 million people if female farmers had equal access to agricultural resources such as fertilisers. Increasing the amount spent on key health interventions for women and children by $5 per person per year to 2035 in 74 developing countries could yield 9 times the return on investment in economic and social benefits.
Good progress has been made to end extreme poverty. However, even though poverty rates have halved since 2000, there are still 783 million people (10.9% of the global population) living on less than $1.90 a day. The progress has been uneven and vulnerable countries like the least developed countries (LDCs) and fragile states continue to have some of the greatest depths of poverty and a large percentage of their populations still live in extreme poverty: 35% of people in fragile states, 40% in LDCs and 39% in Africa. These countries also account for a large proportion of the world’s poor – 39% of the world’s poor live in LDCs, 50% live in fragile states and 51% live Africa. With many of these countries belonging to more than one of these categories, more focus is needed on these countries in order to eradicate the last pockets of extreme poverty and to bring stability to the region. Although the number of people living is decreasing globally, in certain countries most in need, the number is estimated to increase, for example the number of extremely poor people living in fragile states is estimated to increase to 542 million in 2035 from 480 million in 2015.
This is why wealthy countries made commitments to spend 0.7% of their GNI on aid and to contribute 0.15-0.20% of GNI to LDCs. However, these commitments were not met with only five countries meeting the 0.7% target in 2016. Even though the share of ODA to LDCs inched up – increasing from 27.4% in 2016 to 28.4% in 2017, following years of decline – more needs to be done.. If all countries met the 0.7% of GNI target, an additional $182 billion could have been available for developing countries. Donors must reverse these trends otherwise, many developing countries remain in danger of being left behind.
With more investment however, there is great potential. For example, increasing the amount spent on key health interventions for women and children by $5 per person per year to 2035 in 74 developing countries could yield nine times the return on investment in economic and social benefits. Equipping children in low income countries with basic reading skills could cut extreme poverty by 12%. Giving female farmers equal access to productive agricultural resources, such as fertilisers, could reduce people in hunger by 100-150 million people.
Certain sectors can be even more effective, for instance, growth in agriculture is twice as effective at reducing poverty than growth in other sectors. In sub-Saharan Africa, growth in agriculture was found to be 11 times more powerful at reducing poverty than other sectors such as mining, utilities, and services. By tackling causes such as malnutrition, which accounts for up to 11% loss in GDP by leaving people permanently mentally and physically impaired, productivity can be increased. Providing mothers-to-be with access to the nutrition they need could avert 12% of child deaths through improved breastfeeding practices.
With Africa’s population set to double by 2050, there is still a narrow window of opportunity to harness this ‘demographic dividend’. Increasing investments and having the right policies in place, providing education, tackling corruption, improving infrastructure and prioritising job creation, could mean that the 450 million new workers entering the new economy by 2035 have access to quality employment and opportunities. Investments in these vital interventions would greatly contribute to the fight against extreme poverty.
Unfortunately, money towards these essential interventions might never actually reach those it intended. Between 2005 and 2013, sub-Saharan Africa lost $675 billion from illicit flows, this is money which could have been taxed and invested in public services. Improving transparency of where these financial resources are going, how they are spent, and the results that are achieved could ensure that they are being used for their intended purposes.
Similarly, this is why we need more information and collect correct data in order to assess poverty situation more accurately. There are major data gaps across countries and many do not have information to assess need, let alone see an accurate trend over time. The data revolution for sustainable development is imperative and to reach the 2030 targets and not leave anyone behind, we need to make sure every life is counted.